Working from Home or Living at Work?
This post was written by Nagwa Kady and Sean Lewis.
As academics we are faced with multiple responsibilities on a daily basis. These include meeting the demands of the academic arena to publish high quality research in short periods of time, engaging in research projects, teaching, supervising and reviewing student work – the list can be endless. While these tasks may be rewarding, they can also be overwhelming in many situations, especially when we face tight and conflicting deadlines. Many academics are forced to sacrifice personal time with family, friends, and often themselves to fit their growing workload.
Believe it or not, education is one of the most stressful industries in the Netherlands. According to Stasita Research Department, more than 1 in every 5 academics have reported burnout or exhaustion as of 2021. Research done by Times Higher Education in 2018 showed that around 30% of academics worked an average of 9 hours, and nearly 10% worked for 10 hours and more. Working on days off also seemed to be common practice. Around 60% of academics worked up to 3 hours on weekends and also spent up to 5% their holidays catching up on work-related tasks. Sometimes, the reported hours worked on days off were far greater.
The aim of this session was to shed light on a topic that is often not discussed or shared between peers in the field. We shared ways on how to detect stress or burnout and how to deal with it using simple strategies and tools.
If you are still reading this, then you might be feeling you are in the same boat! Frequently, when we lose concentration or lack energy, we attribute it to fatigue. However, if you continuously feel these symptoms, you may be overloaded and/or overstressed. Other indicators are frustration, lower work standards, and detachment from family, friends, and colleagues; if you’re experiencing these alongside additional behaviorial changes, this may indicate potential for a burnout. To avoid this (as much as possible) we shared some simple strategies to declutter your mind and improve work-life balance.
- Strategy 1: Bartlett et al. (2021) share 10 simple rules to improve work-life balance. These rules allow you to self-reflect on how (much) you work; how and what to prioritize; remind you to focus on yourself; and speak out when you need to.
- Strategy 2: Management is key. This includes better calendar organization that helps you categorize tasks and/or break them down into a more manageable workload. Creating healthy habits such as setting regular deadlines and prepping the night before can help you better manage your time.
- Strategy 3: Be kind to yourself and find the right balance. Working on the weekend cannot be avoided at times, so it is important to find the right balance. Make sure you allocate off-time but more importantly, remember to “celebrate” whenever you have completed a certain task. Try to make the celebrations a habit to incentivize you further.
- Strategy 4: Avoid distractions, multitasking, and back to back meetings. These three issues have become part of our daily life. We are overwhelmed by different forms of communication that often pop-up and distract us from what we are doing, so turn off those notifications as much as possible. Multitasking is another culprit. We try to do too much at once, but sometimes it is just not possible and therefore it becomes essential to prioritize. If forced to, “mix” tasks carefully.
- Strategy 5: Know why you procrastinate. Most of the time when a task takes too long to finish, we tend to get bored and procrastinate. A good strategy is to force yourself to finish it as soon as possible. However, procrastination also signals exhaustion and stress, so consider taking a break and switching to another avenue.
- Strategy 6: Manage your energy. Our level of productivity and quality of work drops when we lose energy. In such a situation, taking a 15-minute powernap can help. Alternatively, we can match tasks according to our energy levels. For example: if you are a morning person, assign yourself work that requires more focus at that time; in the afternoon, when energy levels are low, allocate tasks that do not require as much energy.
- Strategy 7: Plan your road trip. Martin & Stanfill (2023) give a great example on how to remain focused and healthy in our academic career. The “road trip” shows you how to remain goal-oriented and self-aware. The authors also shed light on the importance of building a support community in the form of “mentors” to help realize your full potential in academia.
The presentation was followed by an insightful discussion where UGoveRN group members shared their own experiences on how they managed work-life balance. Prof. Tuna Tasan-Kok reflected on her extensive years in practice, reiterating for all that achieving work-life balance is a continuous process. Furthermore, she emphasized the usefulness and importance of many of the smaller strategies and suggestions as outlined above, which can help with managing daily workloads. Most importantly, she showed us how she developed her own ways of work/life management throughout the years, with the helpful reminder that everyone will eventually learn to develop their own methods and best practices. The session ended with a call for similar workshops in the future to discuss and share our experiences together.